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A few years ago, Dan surprised me with a trip. “Guess where I’m taking you for your birthday weekend?”
He smiled at my clueless look. “Here’s a hint: It’s in the Caribbean.”
“No, but we've been wanting to visit so that’s a good guess.”
“No, further north. Here’s another hint: They speak two languages there and you’ve been to both of their mother countries.”
“Oh, we’re going to spend a weekend in St Maarten/St Martin! Cool, that’ll be fun, thank you!”
“You’re welcome. Maybe you’ll get to use your French while we’re there.”
“I’d like that, and maybe I can even use the three Dutch words I know.”
Here's our loosely-planned itinerary for St. Maarten. Maybe it will give you some good ideas for a weekend getaway of your own.
Friday – our weekend in St Maarten begins
We left on Friday morning and arrived at Princess Juliana International Airport in time for a late lunch. As we drove to our hotel we watched the sun play on the ocean, creating assorted luminous green and blue hues that Crayola will never be able to duplicate.
Checking out the hotel after check-in
Our room at Divi Little Bay Beach Resort had a balcony that overlooked a beautiful white sand beach. Cliffs rose to the left and right, and between us and the ocean a row of lounge chairs and umbrellas awaited guests. As soon as we stepped out onto the balcony and got a panoramic view of our surroundings, we decided to get some lunch at the beachside bar.
The better to admire the view with, my dear.
As we sat there, Dan noticed a nearby hill. “I want to hike up there before we leave,” he said, “just to see what's on the other side.” It sounded intriguing, although I suspected we would just see more ocean.
Still, there's nothing wrong with that.
Touring St. Maarten's capital by Segway
St. Maarten’s capital, Philipsburg, consists of only 3 parallel roads, connected by a few side streets.
Aside from the boardwalk, you have Front Street and Back Street – maybe not the most creative names, but they make sense. Most of the clothing and jewelry stores can be found along Front Street which, being closer to the beach and tourist area, is the higher rent district. Further from the beach is Back Street, where most of the local needs can be found (think household goods and food markets, for instance).
Dan had planned an afternoon surprise: a 90-minute Segway tour of Phillipsburg. I was thrilled. Little did he know, but I had wanted to ride a Segway for a long time. I figured it couldn't be too hard to learn because the security guards ride them around our local malls effortlessly. I was right: After only a few minutes we were both riding like pros.
Our tour was only on the wide, paved boardwalk, so we rode past hotels, restaurants, bars, and kitschy souvenir stands. At one end the boardwalk ends in a wide, sandy beach; at the other, not far from the cruise port, it terminates at a beautiful marina and shopping area.
The tour was fun, but learning to ride a Segway was even better. I want one!
Savoring beachside drinks and a beautiful sunset
Even though the boardwalk has plenty of bars, Phillipsburg itself is pretty dead after working hours. We asked a taxi driver to take us to a bar where we could watch the sun set. We ended up on the terrace of a bar in Simpson Bay, watching two little boys with wild imaginations play at being pirates on the beach while a nearby hawker promoted a “free giveaway in just a few minutes.”
Dan took some birthday portrait shots of me and we looked at the boats moored nearby and fantasized about sailing all the islands in the Caribbean. (We never did find out what the hawker was giving away. The “few minutes” he promised lasted long past sunset.)
Of course, the sunset was spectacular.
Eating fresh seafood at a waterside restaurant
Few things can get us as excited as the opportunity to try local food and since we were on an island we both chose fresh fish from a menu that did not disappoint. Scotch Bonnet peppers (aka habaneros) are part of the island's cuisine, so Dan took advantage of it. Not having an asbestos tongue, I steered clear of the spicy creole but still … it smelled heavenly.
Saturday – snorkeling in St. Martin and St. Maarten
The next morning we went on Captain Alan’s Three-Island Snorkeling Adventure. Everything was arranged for us: transportation to/from the dock, the snorkeling equipment, food, drinks, everything. All we needed to bring was a towel and sunscreen.
As we went from place to place we enjoyed sandwiches on fresh baguettes, chips and salsa, fruit salad, and his delicious homemade rum punch. Wish I'd asked for the recipe.
Captain Alan had warned us at the outset that our snorkeling sites would depend on water and weather conditions. We only got to snorkel in St. Maarten that day, but all the locations were excellent. The boat took us to some wonderful spots where there were reefs, a sand bar to wade on, and lonely beaches to explore.
Captain Alan advised us on the best way to enjoy each spot – where to head and what to see – and at one stop he took the more adventurous ones to a deeper area where sea turtles like to swim. Of course we went, as I had long wanted to see turtles in the open water.
We did it! We saw turtles! We also saw an octopus, conch, a stingray, and many of the fish and corals that we had once had in our saltwater aquarium at home.
Afternoon exploring the area
Later that afternoon Dan finally got his chance to climb that nearby hill to get a better view. I'd had enough sun with my super-fair skin, so I waved him goodbye from a shady spot. He came back happy, with a camera full of photos of local wildlife, incredible views, and a semi-forgotten cannon that was at the top.